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History important in evaluating contamination

Posted: October 1, 2013 - 1:20pm  |  Updated: October 2, 2013 - 8:51am

In order to comprehend the dangers posed by AIMM’s Nikiski monofill project, it’s necessary to understand how the integrity of North Road aquifers has already been compromised. As an oilfield worker in Nikiski in the mid-1980s, we had no idea that chlorinated solvents were as toxic as they are. We used to buy this stuff in 55 gallon barrels and at the end of each day, I actually hosed my arms and hands off with these products to remove oil and grime. We used these solvents to clean nearly everything and nearly everyone else in this oilfield did, too. We didn’t know that it only takes one gallon of this liquid to pollute one million gallons of water.

After oil prices tanked in 1986, I worked for a semiconductor company in San Jose, California that was responsible for a terrible environmental tragedy. Leaks had formed in their underground chlorinated solvent tanks and these liquids escaped into a nearby aquifer that fed a municipal water well. The leaks weren’t discovered when we realized that we were buying more solvents than we were using. They were discovered during the course of an investigation into the high incidence of birth defects in the vicinity of one particular municipal well. The resulting clean-up was enormously expensive, everyone throughout the entire San Francisco Bay area began spending good money on bottled water because they couldn’t trust city water, and tears were shed for those who entered this world mangled because there was a leak in a tank.

When I returned to the Kenai in 1990, the culture had shifted noticeably. There was a greater awareness of the dangers of chlorinated solvents. Everyone began to use closed-loop systems to wash equipment and chlorinated solvents began to be replaced with much less toxic products. Nothing went down the drain anymore. Bigger companies were best equipped to develop the technological infrastructure and the environmental management systems required to get the job done without leaving behind a toxic legacy and they took the lead. I’m hopeful that smaller companies followed suit.

So we are at a crossroads now. Without a full understanding of the extent to which our aquifers are already polluted, we are considering the installation of an enormous drilling waste disposal site that will cause serious problems for our children and grandchildren. We don’t know what life will be like around here in fifty years. The liner that AIMM proposes to use isn’t going to last forever and will they be around to clean up the mess when it does begin to leak? Will our children or their children have the resources to perform the clean-up?

In our present oilfield safety culture, when we see the potential for danger, we are trained to step back and reassess what we are doing in order to prevent harm to ourselves or others. Well, we need to do just that, right now. Let’s do two things. Let’s do some thorough studies concerning the existing aquifer contamination in Nikiski and instead of dumping drilling wastes in AIMM’s plastic-lined pit, let’s dispose of them through deep-well injection, the same method that’s used on the Slope. Yes, deep-well waste injection is more expensive than dumping stuff in a hole, but are we here to make a quick buck or are we trying to build an energy industry based around principles that honor God’s earth and that safeguard the health and safety of our families out on the North Road?


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